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Prophet of Peace: Elias Chacour
John Feister
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012
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“My peace is my gift to you,” Jesus said to his followers. But this Easter the land where Jesus once walked, the land of today’s Israelis and Palestinians, is anything but peaceful. In this exclusive St. Anthony Messenger interview, we talk with Archbishop Elias Chacour, whose archeparchy (archdiocese) in northern Israel includes the land of Galilee, where he grew up.

Archbishop Chacour was at the University of Dayton in Ohio last year to attend a graduation of family members and to receive an honorary degree for creating the first Arab university in Israel. Now 73, he remains a busy man! He had just flown from across the world and would be returning in just two days to attend a dinner with the president of Israel.

Chacour’s painful childhood story is documented in several books he has written, which have been translated into 20-plus languages. His most famous is Blood Brothers. We started our interview with a bit of that personal story, because it is such a key to his life’s work as a peacemaker. He tells about his youth passionately, in painful tones. As he continues, though, settling into a friendly, unassuming style, it is clear why he has been nominated three times, in the 1980s and ’90s, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Once a remarkable parish priest who built a pioneering, inter-ethnic school system against all odds, he was named to lead the church in his region, as archbishop, in 2005.

Q: I know that Biram, near Nazareth, is the village of your youth, one of the many villages from which Palestinians were expelled after World War II. What happened there?

A: Where I was born was a village in North Galilee, a Christian village. All the inhabitants were Christians and Catholics. In 1948 we were deported, evicted from our homes by the military and promised that we would be out for only two weeks. But the two weeks did not end; now it’s 64 years later. We were reduced to refugees in our own country, to deportees in our region. We took refuge in a nearby village where some houses had been emptied. And we lived there, waiting for the time to return. And the time did not come. We wonder if it will ever come.

Q: So it’s not a dead issue to you, all these years later?

A: It will never be a dead issue, as long as we are living! And those who ought to understand our position most are the Jews. They say, “We were here 2,000 years ago; we are returning.” We say, “We have been here that 2,000 years, but 64 years ago, we were deported by violence and we will return."

Q: To be the archbishop in the land where Jesus walked is quite a feeling, isn’t it?
A: Yes, spiritually it is quite a feeling. Foremost in my understanding is Christ as the risen Lord who left us with an empty tomb. I want this story to be known everywhere because the risen Lord is the key to reconciliation.

But practically it’s as if you are condemned to death, participating in the suffering of Christ. Christians in the Holy Land as well as in all of the Middle East were always a persecuted minority, since their birth. The Jews were very brutal against the Christians in the beginning until the year 163. They were a factor which brought Christians to the Roman arena to be massacred.

One thing we have decided, though: We do not want to be stuck in the mud of the past. We will remember the past, but we don’t even want to live in the hope for a better future. We want to live in the present time doing our task and preparing a future, not alone — but, rather, Jews and Palestinians together.

Q: You’re a widely known leader among Palestinians. How do you work toward some kind of peaceful, just solution to the divisions in the Holy Land?

A: You know what? I try to be a realistic man. I can do hardly anything to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem. But what I can do surely is to create relations of mutual respect and friendship between a Jew and a Palestinian. It’s so humble, so modest. So I try to inspire the Jews and to convince them that they need to trust, because we are not their enemies. We are their victims. And we don’t want to stay their victims. We want to stop this victimizing and to start being partners — to build up this country together.

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